News / Americas

Colombia Congress Vote Almost Assures Santos Lead in Presidential Ballot

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos (2nd R) accompanied by his wife Maria Clemencia Rodriguez (C) and children Martin (L), Maria Antonia (2ndL) and Esteban (R) walk before a vote during a congressional election in Bogota, March 9, 2014.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos (2nd R) accompanied by his wife Maria Clemencia Rodriguez (C) and children Martin (L), Maria Antonia (2ndL) and Esteban (R) walk before a vote during a congressional election in Bogota, March 9, 2014.
Reuters
Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos heads into presidential elections for a second consecutive term with his lead all but certain -- even while seats for his ruling coalition were trimmed in a congressional vote that cemented his fiercest rival as the main opposition, results showed on Monday.

With most of Sunday's congressional vote counted, Santos' backers had won enough seats in the Senate and lower house to support ongoing peace talks with Marxist FARC rebels and provide a snapshot of national support for the center-right president.

One-time ally turned rival, former President Alvaro Uribe became the biggest opposition force in the legislature, winning 19 seats in the Senate for his Democratic Center party - including one for himself - against 21 for Santos' U Party. In the lower house, the U won 37 seats against Uribe's 12.

Despite losing clout from his coalition in congress, the result bolstered confidence among Santos' backers that he could win a second term in presidential elections on May 25.

“We can win in the first round,” said Sergio Diaz Granados, head of Santos' U Party. “Peace is what will help generate employment, improve security and advance the social reforms the country needs.”

Although right-wing Uribe garnered a large chunk of support in congress, it may be tough to transfer that backing to his presidential candidate, former finance minister Oscar Ivan Zuluaga.

Zuluaga has struggled to gain momentum against Santos, picking up 10.8 percent of the vote in a recent Gallup poll against 34.7 percent for the president. A candidate needs to win more than 50 percent of the ballot to avoid a runoff in June.

Still, Uribe's presence thins Santos' support for steering reforms through the legislature and may complicate the implementation of a peace deal with FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, if talks succeed.

With almost 99 percent of votes counted, 62-year-old Santos' center-right U Party emerged the single biggest party in both congressional houses.

But counting all the seats that make up his coalition - the Conservative, Liberal, Radical Change and U parties - Santos lost some clout.

Santos wants a second term to allow him time to complete negotiations with the FARC that could end a war that has killed more than 200,000 and transform Colombia's political makeup if the rebels' gain the political participation they seek.

Uribe, 61, is a bitter critic of the government who believes the FARC should instead be beaten militarily. His party likely will seek to obstruct legislation if a peace deal is reached that would enable FARC rebels to enter the political system without serving considerable jail time.

Santos called on Uribe to put aside the “hatred” and work in congress for good of the nation.

“There was a very important signal sent to the nation and the whole world, that grand majority of Colombians want peace,” Santos said late on Sunday after the results were revealed.

The secretive peace talks reached a partial accord late last year on the FARC's participation in politics, a highly controversial item on the five-point agenda. Any deal with the rebels would be put to the nation in a referendum, and then to congress to devise laws for its implementation.

Despite slow but encouraging progress at the negotiations in Cuba's capital Havana that began in late 2012, the decision to engage in peace talks with the guerrillas remains divisive and will be pivotal in voters' choice of president in May.

Uribe became the de facto opposition and Santos' fiercest critic shortly after backing him for office in 2010.

The two fell out when Santos mended ties with Venezuela's then-President Hugo Chavez, who had engaged in a diplomatic tussle with Uribe for years. The acrimony worsened when Santos announced peace talks with the FARC, seen as a terrorist group by the United Sates and the European Union.

“Compatriots, today the Democratic Center Party was born. It won't waver before terrorism,” Uribe said on his Twitter account.

Colombia, a recipient of hundreds of million of dollars in annual U.S. anti-narcotics aid, has fought the FARC, right-wing paramilitaries and a smaller rebel group, the ELN, since 1964. More than 200,000 people have died and millions have been displaced.

Santos is expected to reveal soon that the ELN will also start peace talks with his government, which is likely to give a further boost to his chances of securing another term.

Santos will also need backing in congress to pass reforms that would help bolster Colombia's $350 billion economy, create new jobs and cut the poverty rate, which affects about half the nation's population of 47 million.

You May Like

Russia Names US NGO 'Undesirable'

Prosecutors determine activities of National Endowment for Democracy to be 'undesirable,' paving the way for it to be outlawed on Russian territory More

Erdogan Vows 'Anti-Terror' Campaign in Syria, Iraq

Erdogan expressed confidence the 'necessary steps' will be taken by NATO leaders, who will meet Tuesday at Turkey's request More

North Korea: 'No Interest at All' in Nuke Deal

Senior US envoy Sydney Seiler visits Beijing Tuesday for talks on how to revive the stalled six-party nuclear talks with North Korea More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Wini
X
July 28, 2015 12:21 AM
The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Iran Nuclear Pact Wins Few New US Congressional Backers

Later this week, President Barack Obama returns from a trip to Africa to confront a U.S. Congress roiled by the nuclear accord with Iran, an agreement that has received the blessing of the U.N. Security Council. Days of intensive lobbying and testimony by top administration officials have won few new congressional supporters of the pact. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Obama Encourages Kenya to Fix Cultures of Corruption, Discrimination

President Barack Obama bid farewell to Kenya Sunday with a major speech at as stadium outside the capital Nairobi where he called on Kenyans to change the cultures of corruption and discrimination that can hold society back. VOA East Africa Correspondent Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video California Towns Welcome Special Olympics Athletes

Cities and towns in Southern California are greeting thousands of athletes who are arriving for Special Olympics, a competition for people with intellectual disabilities. The games will run from July 25th through August 2nd. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, where athletes from Namibia, Singapore and Tanzania got a rousing welcome from local residents.
Video

Video Critics of Japan Defense Policy Focus on Okinawa

In Okinawa, many locals have long complained that Tokyo places an unfair burden on the tiny island by locating most of Japan's U.S. military bases there. As Japan's government moves toward strengthening and expanding the country's defense policies, opponents of those plans are joining local protesters in Okinawa, voicing concern about where the country is headed. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Okinawa.
Video

Video IS Uses Chemical Weapons in Syrian Attack

Islamic State militants have added a new weapon in their arsenal of fear: chemical weapons. VOA Kurdish service reporter Zana Omer was on the scene within hours of a recent attack in Hasakah, Syria, and has details of the subsequent investigation, in this report narrated by Miguel Amaya.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.
Video

Video Hoverbike Flying Toward Reality

Another long-standing dream of many technological inventors is quickly approaching reality: U.S.- and British-based firms are cooperating in the development of an individual flying platform they call a hoverbike. They say it may revolutionize the concept of flying, including in the U.S. military. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video As Japan Expands Defense Role, Protests Follow

The Japanese government is moving forward with a controversial security bill that would authorize the military to fight abroad for the first time since World War II. Leaders say it is critical to defend against rising threats from China and North Korea. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Japan on the big changes ahead, and the opposition they are drawing.
Video

Video Replacing Poppies with Coffee in Myanmar

The remote mountains of Myanmar’s Shan state are home to the second-largest opium-producing region in the world. After a drop during the 2000s, production surged in the past eight years to feed an increasing demand for heroin in China. But farmers are now making less on the crop, and the U.N. is hoping many will make the switch to growing coffee. Daniel de Carteret reports for VOA from Taunggyi.

VOA Blogs

More Americas News

El Salvador Bus Drivers Strike as Gang Violence Surges

Drivers demanding better security in wake of escalating attacks, leaving thousands of commuters stranded on streets of Central American capital
More

Brazil's Biggest Party Sticks With Unpopular Rousseff - For Now

Rousseff struggling to save her presidency amid worst economic downturn in 25 years and political crisis set off by massive kickback scandal at state-run Petrobras
More

Amnesty: Mexico Bodies Report Highlights 'Shocking' Crisis

Of the 25,000 people Mexican officials have listed as missing, more than 11,000 cases were registered since President Enrique Pena Nieto took office
More

Chile's Bachelet Asks for End of Dictatorship Silence Pact

President calls on citizens to break the silence that has covered up human rights violations during Pinochet-era
More

US Dominates Pan American Games

US won 103 gold medals and 265 medals overall after 16 days of competition in 36 sports
More

Mexico's Search for Missing Students Finds 129 Other Bodies

Bodies found in at least 60 clandestine graves, attorney general says; no remains have been linked to youths' disappearance in Guerrero state
More